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We've been singing the song and the praises of the pawpaw at Kentucky State University for some time now. The pawpaw produces the largest edible fruit native to the United States, reaching over one lb. in size. Pawpaws are hardy to USDA growing zone 5 and grow wild in the hardwood forests of 26 states in the eastern United States, ranging from northern Florida to southern Ontario, Canada, and as far west as eastern Nebraska. In their native setting, pawpaws usually flourish in the deep, rich, fertile soils of river-bottom lands where they grow as understory trees or thicket-shrubs. However, in full sun in an orchard setting, pawpaws can produce large quantities of fruit.
Since 1990, KSU has had the only fulltime comprehensive pawpaw program in the world directed toward developing pawpaw as a new commercial tree fruit crop for Kentucky and the southeastern United States. KSU is also home of the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository Collection of pawpaw species. The collection contains 1700 trees from 17 different states and is located at the KSU farm in an 8 acre orchard and in four greenhouses. Experiments in pawpaw propagation are being conducted in the KSU greenhouses. Students on the KSU campus learn about molecular genetics when conducting experiments to study genetic diversity in pawpaw.
In the fall of 1998, KSU initiated its first annual pawpaw field day, where about 50 people attended and learned about growing pawpaws, toured the pawpaw orchards, and sampled pawpaw products. Since 1999, the KSU pawpaw field days have averaged over 100 attendees each year. The Second International Pawpaw Conference, sponsored by Kentucky State University and The PawPaw Foundation, was held in Frankfort, Kentucky. Over 150 scientists, nurserymen, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts from 22 states attended the conference and shared information about the production and uses of pawpaw. Attendees listened to invited speakers, participated in roundtable discussions, tasted pawpaw varieties and menu items, and toured the KSU pawpaw orchards. Let's have a brief look at some of the actives at the International Conference and several KSU field days.
The International pawpaw conference began on a Friday morning on the KSU campus in the KSU Extension Building. After a welcome from the president of KSU, and Dr. Harold R. Benson, Director of Land Grant Programs at KSU, there was an overview of the KSU pawpaw program by Dr. Kirk Pomper, and then a series of talks on the propagation of pawpaw. After lunch on the KSU campus, the conference participants boarded buses and took a one hour trip through the beautiful Kentucky countryside to the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville.
After arriving at the Hotel, there was a pawpaw fruit tasting held with fruit from a range of pawpaw cultivars and advanced selections. Then participants listened to a series of talks. Dr. Douglas Archbold discussed joint KSU-UK research efforts in examining ripening characteristics and postharvest cold storage of pawpaw that are under way to develop recommendations for harvest and shelf life extension of the fresh fruit.
Mr. Chris Chmiel and Mr. Neal Peterson, pawpaw growers, discussed their efforts in harvesting and shipping pawpaw fruit.
Chef Jim Gerhardt, senior chef of one of Kentucky's finest restaurants, The Oakroom, a 5-diamond restaurant at Louisville's Seelbach Hilton, became interested in pawpaw several years before the conference.
Participants sampled pawpaw recipes at dinner, including Chef Jim Gerhardt's French Rib Pork Chop marinated in spicebush berries and Woodford Reserve bourbon with green tomato and pawpaw compote and country ham jus. This recipe has been featured in USA Today and at the prestigious "Celebration of Southern Chefs". For dessert there was a Pawpaw Foster that consists of flambéed pawpaw and bananas with ginger liqueur and bourbon over pawpaw ice cream.
The following morning, Jerry McLaughlin discussed the bioactive components of pawpaw and their possible development in anticancer and pesticidal products.
Beth Floyd and Chris Chmiel discussed marketing opportunities with pawpaw.
The Second International Pawpaw Conference was a high point for the KSU pawpaw program and based on the feedback received since the conference, interest by the public in pawpaw was increased even further. However, each year since the International Conference pawpaw field days and workshops continue to attract those interested in this unique crop. We hope to see you at the next KSU pawpaw field day.
As always, happy pawpaw hunting.
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